The Mental Shift of Delayed Gratification

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Photo by Matthew Bowden

Me and Instant Gratification are lovers. We’ve been intimate with each other for a very long time, and I am fiercely loyal.

But then my husband decides to do the Master Cleanse diet as a way to reboot his body and his focus towards a healthier lifestyle. Basically, while on the Master Cleanse, you drink this spicey lemonade concoction and natural laxatives for 10 days… and nothing else. I did it with him for 24 hours before I cracked and told him (and I quote), “Fuck this shit! I’m eating food.”

But my husband, with his indomitable willpower and laser focus, has just completed day five of the Master Cleanse and is still going strong. He is going for Delayed Gratification.

Delayed Gratification: To give up something I enjoy now for something that I will enjoy even more in the future.

I have read about delayed gratification for many years. My brain processed the words and understood the concept, but I never grokked the concept until I watched my husband go through this Master Cleanse diet. I went through one of those mental shifts where something finally clicks, and you exclaim, “Oh! That’s what they mean!” If I don’t eat that donut now (or any donuts for the forseeable future), I will get to have abundant energy, general contentment and clear skin and get to wear the fun clothes. The donut, which I would enjoy very much, must be sacrificed for the future health and playfulness, which I would enjoy even more.

So now I understand — truly understand — delayed gratification and all the wonderful things that can come from it. I haven’t kicked Instant Gratification out of my bed yet; one does not change overnight. But I have seen a different, and perhaps better, way to act.

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The Raw Food Point of No Return

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Image by abcdz2000

I’ve been on this raw food diet (well… on and off and struggling with this raw food diet) for almost four months now. As a not-so-newbie anymore, I have some advice that is both good and bad for the raw food newbie:

You will reach a Point of No Return.

You see, when we eat crap food all of the time, we feel terrible all of the time, and we don’t even realize that there is another way to feel. We always feel slightly run down and sick, and we assume it’s the pace and difficulty of modern life.

Then you start eating raw vegan food, and you feel… good. You feel awake and your body doesn’t hurt as much as it did before and your brain is a little less fuzzy. And the longer you stay with raw food and the higher percentage of it you eat in a day, the better and better you feel.

And the opposite happens as well: when you eat fast food or processed food or processed sugar, you feel sick. I mean properly sick with stomach cramps and an achey body and brain. You just feel terrible until your body manages to break the food down and cycle it out of your body.

But here’s the problem: you still like the taste of and crave all that junk food. Just because you’re eating raw vegan food doesn’t mean that all of sudden you don’t want that steak and egg bagel from McDonald’s or those Russell Stover chocolates. So you eat them. And you feel really sick. Then you race back to your raw food until you feel better. And then you eat more junk food. And you feel ill again. Then you eat more raw food until you feel better. Then you eat the junk food….

See the pattern?¬†But then, finally, you reach that point where you just don’t want to feel ill anymore, no matter how yummy Popeye’s chicken and red beans and rice are. It’s just not worth the hours of pain in the mind and the body.

But here’s the other problem besides still liking and craving the junk food: Sure, now you’ve decided not to eat the processed food, but you still haven’t quite figured out how to thrive on raw vegan food. Four months in and I’m still basically eating green smoothies and salads. I don’t sprout any seeds or make almond milk for a muesli-like cereal in the morning. I don’t know how to make seaweed-wrapped veggie rolls. I don’t know how to prepare any of this! What I do know how to do is go through the McDonald’s drive thru and order a #2 and a small coke with no ice.

I don’t want to be sick anymore. It really hurts now when I eat junk food. But I’m still at the bottom of the raw food learning curve. *sigh* I guess it’s green smoothies and salads mostly as I slowly learn how to prepare and enjoy more raw food recipes.

Oh, by the way, the up-side of the Raw Food Point of No Return: 1) you feel so much better and happier; and 2) you lose weight and become healthier. And how can that be a bad thing? ūüėČ

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A Family of Butterflies

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Image by iammi-z

I love¬†Leo Babauta. I love his blog. I love his book. I love his rockin’ uncopyrighted awesomeness. And in his book and blog, he offers the advice of laser-focusing on one goal at a time so as to not dilute one’s effectiveness.

Taking his advice, my one goal at the moment is Wellness. Wellness to me is a healthy diet, exercise, and an uncluttered home. Currently, my cluttered home, filled and spilling over with stuff, is causing me a lot of stress. I have a deep desire for an uncluttered, peaceful home. That’s why it’s on the Wellness List.

So for the past few months, and more intensely in the past few days, I have been trying to stay on the vegan raw food diet. Also, in the last few days, I have been getting up at 5:00am in an attempt to exercise.

And that brings us to the heart of this blog entry: It is hard! Gosh, I think I need to write that again because those simple words don’t seem to do the act justice:

It is incredibly — in a soul-wrenching, punch-in-the-gut kind of way — hard. I feel like a drug addict trying to give up her dope. Passing by the donuts in the grocery store, not going to McDonald’s when I get hungry, getting up at 5:00am even though I’m still really sleepy — each one of these things requires an upheaval of the soul followed by industrial-strength commitment. And I’m tempted over and over throughout the day, and, needless to say, I do eventually cave into my old unhealthy habits that feel like my favorite pair of pajamas on a Sunday morning.

But, you see, those pajamas are not quite so comfortable anymore. In fact, they’re kind of itchy and thread-bare and don’t feel very good at all anymore. So, after giving into my old habits and eating that lunch at McDonald’s and then feeling incredibly sick afterwards (if you eat lots of healthy food and then eat fast food, you feel really sick afterwards), I pull myself up off the ground (clutching my stomach which, of course, is cramping now after all that poisonous non-food), dust the dirt off, and start working doggedly, decisively, willfully on my new habits.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I know it’s hard to change yourself — your habits, your routines, your personal comfort zone, your personal culture. I’m in the middle of it right now too. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and unfortunately, sometimes even depressing. After a long day of standing up against your old unhealthy habits, you crawl into bed feeling like you’ve been in the ring all day with¬†Muhammad Ali¬†and all you have left is maybe a shred of dignity because you went up against such a strong and unrelenting opponent and you’re still able to move. I just don’t want you to feel alone on your difficult journey. There are a lot of us — an invisible but tangible family bonded by the desire to each be a better person — quietly (or sometimes quite loudly) encouraging each other.

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What I Have Learned -or- 21 Days to a New Habit is a Crock

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For the past year — that would be one year — my primary goal has been nutrition. When I started, I didn’t think it would take a year. I thought it would take 21 days: 21 days to quit eating fast food and 21 days to prepare healthy meals at home.

It didn’t quite work out that way.¬†A more accurate description:

  • One year to quit eating fast food and prepare healthy meals at home.
  • One year to get into the habit of consistently keeping the kitchen and dining area clean as I was much less likely to cook the next meal if the kitchen was dirty.
  • One year to get into the habit of keeping the pantry stocked as I was much more likely to make bad food choices when I was hungry and there was nothing nutritious on hand.
  • One year to get into the habit of planning my family’s meals.
  • One year to read and educate myself about nutrition (that’s still ongoing actually) as our basic knowledge of nutrition as Americans is severely lacking.
  • One year to learn how to buck the system as our entire culture — in which ourselves, our friends, and our extended families are completely immersed — is a well-oiled machine geared towards quick and unhealthy food.

One year to change my lifestyle.

I had been reading about raw vegan food for the past year, but it wasn’t until two months ago that Matt and I started eating more raw vegan food. Twenty-one days to eating healthy, mostly raw vegan food? No.

For the past two months, my entire routine has been turned upside down as I learned how to prepare new food and how to fit this radically new way of eating into my household’s routine, culture, and lifestyle. All maintenance duties, with the exception of paying bills, were put on hold because we were making such an extreme change. Our routines were completely¬†discombobulated. Matt and I had to stay laser-focused on our new way of preparing and eating food as chaos reigned around us.

Now, two months later, as eating more raw food feels normal and routine to us and it slips easily into our day, I have spent the last week bringing the house back under control. The backyard is still insane from lack of maintenance. It took two months for our new habit of eating raw to settle.

Perhaps you can make something like “make my bed in the morning” or “brush my teeth after lunch” stick in 21 days. But, as I discovered, a lifestyle change takes concerted effort over a long period of time. And it requires a determined persistence to continue whenever you have setbacks, which you will by the way. You will always have “failures” along the road to long-term goals, and you always have to get right back in there after you have caught your breath.

It took a year, which included many moments of discouragement and weariness, but my family is finally eating healthy. It was so worth the requisite time and persistence.

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The uncomfortable nature of clutter

I don’t like staying in my home. I noticed this the other day as I escaped and realized that I immediately relaxed as soon as I walked out the door. As I was driving to the most awesome nursery ever, The Great Outdoors, I was musing over my inability to relax at home.¬†And I believe it’s because of clutter.

Yep. Clutter.

I have too much sh*t piled in corners, stuffed onto shelves and cabinets, and falling out of closets. And all that clutter makes me tense. I have to clean it, dust it, organize it, find homes for all of it, and generally keep track of it and take care of it.

But not for much longer. My new plan: get rid of 50% of the stuff that is crammed into my home. That’s my goal. Free the space and free the mind. Armed with FlyLady and determination, I think it will take me several months to accomplish. And just like I’m trying to lose the extra weight I have been carrying, I expect that losing all this clutter in my house will also make me feel lighter and happier.

Along the lines of streamlining and living a simpler life, I’m very curious about “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta. I haven’t ordered it yet from amazon, but the idea has been moving around in my head a lot lately so I’m sure I’ll be ordering it soon.

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